“Sovereign Lord … Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your work with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” (verses 24, 27-30)
It’s a powerful way for these gathered believers to start their prayer. Peter and John have just been arrested by the earthly powers of Jerusalem, kept in prison overnight, then put on trial before the assembled ranks of religious authority who tried to bully these apostles into submission. Having heard the report, the assembled believers start their prayer with a single Greek word: “Despota.” “Sovereign Lord.” We get our English word “despot” from it, referring to someone who holds absolute authority and power, typically using it with wanton cruelty and oppression. But at its root, the Greek word doesn’t have that flavour. It refers not to character, but simply indicates position. It focuses solely on power to rule. It refers to a master or slave owner whose authority and position no one can challenge.
What an absolutely accurate word to use of the Lord! Interestingly, it’s not the most common title for him in the New Testament, occurring only five times, but it is entirely apt on this occasion. In view of all the other authorities and powers pressing in on the early church at this very moment, such that they might have felt unduly cowed, these early believers choose a title for the Lord that sets their sights aright. “Sovereign Lord – you’re the One, the only one, who has absolute, unchallenged power and authority over all things!”
It might be a good way for us to start our own prayers whenever we’re feeling hard-pressed. “Despota!”
That’s how the prayer starts. But the other compelling aspect of this simple, focused prayer is where it ends. In light of Peter and John’s night in prison, and the escalating threats of the authorities, together with their oppressive bullying, I would have expected the whole build-up of this prayer to resolve into a single fervent petition: “Protect us!”
But that’s not where these impassioned believers land. Not at all. Instead they ask for a release of unfettered fearlessness. “Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness” (verse 29). Such boldness will only push them further into the limelight. And they don’t stop there, but ask for “miraculous signs and wonders” to be worked in Jesus’ name.
These are not prayers of those who wish to fly under the radar. Boldness will not minimize hostility, nor will miracles allow their presence to be ignored. It seems protection and avoidance are not the chief motivations of these believers. Rather, they’re focused on Jesus himself, yearning for his name to be lifted high, to gain prominence, to attract full attention, to be unavoidable. Yes, such eminence will spill forth light on to them, too, but they don’t hold back. They ask for boldness.
The Lord willingly answers. The place is shaken. The Spirit fills them. They speak the message of Jesus boldly.
And the relentless, grace-filled march of “Despota” continues.
Despota. Sovereign Lord. Fill me with holy boldness to live the life of Jesus and speak fearlessly in his name. Fill me with your Spirit. Make your presence known. For the sake of Jesus’ glory.
Reflect: In what current circumstance do you most need holy empowering to live and speak for Jesus? Will you ask the Lord for boldness to do so?